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Another Ukrainian flight lands at Mattala pending approval for new set of guidelines ahead of BIA opening

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Udayanga denies accusations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The fifth flight carrying Ukrainian tourists landed in the country’s second international airport at Mattala yesterday (7) as the SLPP government vowed to go ahead with what Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga called a pilot project of pivotal importance in the run-up to re-opening of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).

Minister Ranatunga told a gathering at Minuwangoda that in spite of some hiccups the pilot project was on track. The minister acknowledged the recent problems caused by the failure on their part to adhere to specific health guidelines in place to neutralize the Covid-19 threat. The SLPP Gampaha District heavyweight said that approximately 600 Ukrainians were here since the arrival of the first flight on Dec 28.

The fifth flight had brought 183 passengers though the original schedule envisaged 215 persons, an aide to Minister Ranatunga told The Island.

The entire group and the airline crew were subjected to PCR tests.

Responding to another query, the official said that with the latest arrivals, the total number of visitors was approximately 800.

According to a copy of the schedule made available to The Island, there would be altogether ten flights from Ukraine before the government re-opened the BIA on January 21.

There would be two more flights on January 22 and 24 from Ukraine to Mattala after the re-opening of the BIA, the official said. Acknowledging that their original plan was to bring in 2,580 passengers in 12 ‘Sky Up’ and ‘Ukrainian International Airline’ flights from Dec 28, 2020 to January 24, 2021 to test Sri Lanka’s preparedness to re-open BIA.

The official said that some of those who had been planning to visit Sri Lanka pulled out at the last moment though the vast majority responded positively. All flights originated from Ukraine’s capital Kiev.

The remaining flights are scheduled to touch down at Mattala on January 8, 12, 14, 15, 19, 22 and 24. All remaining flights will also originate from Kiev.

The official said that authorities expect over 2,000 to visit Sri Lanka though the original plan was to facilitate the arrival of 2,580.

Referring to the recent incident at Yala where Ukrainian project prompter Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Moscow Udayanga Weeratunga had been accused of violating agreed health protocols, Minister Ranatunga said that once they realized the shortcomings immediate remedial measures were taken.

Minister Ranatunga claimed that due to the delay in the Tourism Ministry receiving relevant health guidelines, they weren’t available down the line, hence the breakdown in communications. However, acknowledging their shortcomings, Minister Ranatunga also faulted those responsible for organizing the Ukrainian project for not properly informing them.

According to Minister Ranatunga, three companies had been involved in the pilot project to allow visitors from what he called the Russian region.

The Tourism Ministry promptly responded to Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando’s scathing attack on protocol violations. In a letter dated January 2, 2021, Fernando warned of dire consequences if tour operators were allowed to flout protocols.

Explaining the measures adopted by Ukrainians before the groups departed, Minister Ranatunga emphasized the need to have a different set of protocols/guidelines in respect of tourists. Those who visit the country for a week or two couldn’t be expected to follow the procedures in place for those Sri Lankans returning home, Minister Ranatunga said, revealing that the Tourism Ministry had sought approval from health authorities for a new set of protocols ahead of the opening of the BIA.

The minister said that they expected the approval ahead of the BIA re-opening.

Minister Ranatunga said that health guidelines meant for tourists would prevent transmission of coronavirus from tourists to locals and vice versa.

Explaining how the places for Ukranians to visit were chosen, Minister Ranatunga assured they wouldn’t be taken to Dalada Maligawa if the Buddhist clergy opposed it.

According to the Minister, of the 600 who had been here before Thursday’s arrivals, only two were tested positive for corona. However, earlier media reported that six Ukrainians had been tested positive.

Meanwhile, State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, appearing in ‘Aluth Parlimenthuwa’ on Wednesday (6) strongly defended the government decision to launch pilot project ahead of the re-opening of the BIA. Acknowledging the risks involved, Dr. Godahewa explained that the government couldn’t delay taking meaningful measures to kick start tourism until Covid-19 epidemic was brought under total control. Responding to former JVP lawmaker Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, State Minister Godahewa emphasized the need to go ahead with tourism revival plans regardless of criticism.

Pointing out how the government swiftly responded to criticism pertaining to the Ukranian project, Dr. Godahewa said that in spite of immense challenges, the government efforts to improve the situation were on track. The tourism project was a key part of the overall project, the Viyathmaga heavyweight said, dismissing Opposition accusations of incompetence and unilateral measures at the times of unprecedented crises.

Former Ambassador Weeratunga appeared on television on Wednesday to defend the ongoing project. Weeratunga said that though there had been some issues with the project there was no basis for accusations that protocols were violated. Weeratunga emphasized the need to provide an opportunity for tourists to visit the country.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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